Become a MacGyver of Street and Urban Photography.
Early afternoon in the mid 90’s. There’s a boy in front of the tv watching one of his childhood heroes – MacGyver. The main character resolves problems by making things out of nothing. Well, from ordinary objects, along with his ever-present Swiss Army knife. Of course he manages to solve every situation, no matter how miserable it may look. He doesn’t use a gun and completes his quests just seconds before something really bad is supposed to happen. That boy in front of the tv is me. So how this cheesy tv series relates to photography? I will try to convince you that it really does.
Just think about it – if you’d had all the skills Mr. Angus MacGyver had – a scientific knowledge, mastery, perfect self-control, nerves of steel. And all of that you put into practice perfectly in the moment – not earlier, not later, just rigth on time. It would be awesome right? So now let your imagination and transfer it to the world of street and urban photography. You live in a grey, boring city or town, you don’t see any interesting people in the streets, no great urban landscapes, no decent location for your shots. Ok let’s be fair, if your hometown consists of dozen households – you may have a problem here. But no matter what size of your city, what gear you have, what photo skills you posses, there is always a way for you to follow your passion. Ok, I hear you saying : …”but I have a job, family and shopping to do. I like taking photos but how on earth will I have time to do it?” Let me just tell you – get yourself together, cut out all this buls&#$ talk, make yourself a nice, strong cup of coffee and read the rest of this text, maybe it’s going to help you.
Use your Swiss Knife as a pro. Or in the other words – get the most of the camera you have. Mr. MacGyver was able to make anything he dreamt of with his loyal companion which was of course his Swiss Knife. This little, red tool had it all. It was his best friend, of course his second best friend because he had a friend in his bald boss named Pete. What I am trying to say is – make friends with your camera, know its’ good sides and bad sides. Remember to cultivate this friendship. Just compare the tons of functions your camera has with few basic functions that cameras had let’s say 50 years ago. Do photos from few decades ago look bad? No, there are thousands of superb photographs taken by talented people that put an effort to know their equipment. So they had something like a basic, usual knife. And what do you have? Man, you are holding a fully loaded Swiss Knife in your hands with all these gadgets and stuff. Just think, how lucky you are. Read the manual for your camera if you hadn’t done it earlier. I personally made that mistake – “I know how a camera works, I just click here and here, set few options and I am ready to click”. Of course I lost dozens of great shot opportunities becasue I had my camera set badly. Just read it. If you feel a need to – go back to basics. Practice in home how shutter speed and aperature together with ISO work. Be sure that you know your camera well and it will pay you back in great shots, I know it will.
Dismantle an atomic bomb in last seconds. Red or green, maybe yellow…If I cut the red one, my head will fly over the window… Did MacGyver have thoughts like these when he had to cut the wire on a bomb that was about to explode in 5 seconds? Not that I remember. He always cut the right wire and the timing was also spot-on.
Street Photography is all about timing. You need to be in the right place, in the right time. But it is not enough – you have to click the shutter button perfectly on time. You have that comfort that if you miss a shot nothing will explode, so you can try and try. SD cards are so forgiving, they welcome all your shots no matter how good or bad they are and you can easily remove them from your memory just by single click. I repeat it on every occasion – if you don’t have a burst mode switched on in your camera, please take your camera out of the closet and switch it to on. Street is action, it is in a constant flow. You can’t allow yourself to loose a great photo opportunity because your camera takes only one photo when you press the shutter button. Be always prepared and don’t leave your camera in your pocket or in a bag. Do you need to roam the streets for several hours every single day and shoot, shoot, shoot? Well, if you have time to do it, you can try. What I am trying to say is that your photo walks can last 20 minutes and still you’ll be capable of taking some astonishing photos. Don’t treat the lack of time as an excuse, very often it works the other way round – it stimulates you, you are getting more confident about where and how to shoot, you know that you have to make the most of that small amount of time out there shooting. I have a wonderful family,two little sons and a small online business to run and guess what, I always find time to do steet and urban photography!
Make something out of nothing. I particulary remember one episode when MacGyver was thrown into the ocean laying in the wooden coffin, which he had transformed into jest ski. When he was under water he pushed the button on his little pilot and guess what happened, yep the coffin transformed into a jet ski. How on earth people writing script for this series came up with it? I don’t want you to build coffins of course but to get creative as much as you can. And when you think you are the most creative person in the world – be more creative. Finally, you will be able to stand out from the crowd of similar photographers, you will be original, you will be thinking outside the box. Your creativity level is not going to be always high. Be prepared to have really lousy days with zero interesting shots by the end of them. But on the other days, your camera will be filled with great shots, that’s how it is. I believe that those bad days with even worse photos can also be beneficial – we learn from our mistakes. I only use one point and shoot camera and 99% of my shots were taken in the same city – Gliwice. At first I thought it would block my creativity, but it was just the opposite – I walked the same old streets, same spots and I had to find new perspectives for my shots. Cities are full of various and unconventional spots for taking photographs. When you exploited all of the obvious ones , then the best fun comes in. Going off the beaten track is the best thing you can do.
Your computer is your dark-room. Mr. MacGyver was also well known for being good at computers. I bet nowadays he would be a member of Anonymous group. He was sort of a geek but to a healthy extend. So let’s try it for ourselves shall we?
Using your computer smoothly will allow you to speed up the process of post-processing and what comes with it – having more time to shoot rather than moving sliders all day long. Majority of us shoot digital, so most of us became friends with Adobe Lightroom. Of course the range of post-processing software is quite wide, so you can try something different and decide what suits you best. The fact that Lightroom is so popular makes it easier to find tons of tips and video tutorials online. That kind of software gives you a possibility to work on your own style, your distinguishable colors. Of course, when you don’t want to use post-processig you can have photos ready out of the camera in jpgs. It all depends on your approach to photography. I personally don’t limit myself only to black and white photography or only color photography. For me one of the most important ingredients of the frame is mood. I am able to recreate that particular moment when I pressed the shutter button and that is amazing. I feel that sometimes my shot needs classic black and white tones so then I leave it in BW. Our world and everyday life is surrounded by technology so maybe when it comes to photography let’s try to cut it out a bit and spend time on actually taking photographs.
Last but not least – grow your MacGyver hairstyle. Only this can help you become a succesfull street and urban photographer (irony). This remark goes generally to all of the people giving tips of any kind on how to shoot, including me. Just be yourself. Yes, you look at other photographers’ work, it is inevitable, however it is you behind the camera and don’t let anyone to pigeonhole you as this or that. I hate labels and categories and I believe that commiting to your work as a photogpraher, persistence, believing in yourself will pay off. Just don’t give up on your passion even if it may look there is a heavy load of work ahead of you, you are going to love that work.